DISTILLERIE OLD BUSHMILLS and 21 YO, 25 YO and 30 YO review

Every story that ends well has a sequel. Also, I suggest you continue the one that I told you during the tasting of SEXTON on the Giant's Causeway in County Atrim in Northern Ireland (to be rediscovered here).


Today I suggest you set off to discover (or rediscover because it was not born yesterday) the OLD BUSHMILLS distillery and especially the tasting worthy of those that I offer you in my club chair through of the three precious stones of the house. Single Malt Irish Whiskey 21 years old, 25 years old and 30 years old!


Honorable right??


Here we are again, still under the effect of the tasting, in situ, of Sexton on the Giant's Causeway (which inspired the shape of the bottle – Editor's note) it is in the company of the one who has worked at the distillery since 2004 and has been the blending master since 2012 : ALEX THOMAS, whom I take aboard my faithful BRAD PEAT which waits quietly in front of a small herd of cows quietly grazing by the sea.


Alex tells me, would you be tempted to visit the oldest distillery in the world?


I didn't even answer, she suspected my answer, and we left in the direction of the distillery, barely 10 minutes away.



On the way, Alex took the opportunity to give me a quick history of this centuries-old house which is causing debate in the world of cereal-based spirits: is it the first?


1608!? Are we on the first distillery of “Uisce beatha”?


She explains to me that the date proudly displayed on the BUSHMILLS bottles does not really correspond to the official distilling license, but to the beginnings of official whiskey production in the region. She also told me that according to oral histories, it was as early as 1276 that a colonist named Sir Robert Savage of Ards fortified his troops with “a powerful drop of aqua vitae” before going into battle.


In reality, it was in 1784 that Hugh Anderson registered the brand "THE OLD BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY" by taking over one of the 5 distilleries in the village (in operation since at least 1743) and began to produce "parliamentary" (official) whiskey.



That's a lot of dates, I said to myself: in summary, 1276, we begin to distill in the region, 1608, we produce in larger quantities, 1743 the clandestine distillery is born and 1784, it officially becomes OLD BUSHMILLS! Everything is clear !


Alex then explains to me that in the middle of the 19th century, it was taxes that were at the origin of one of the specificities of current Irish whiskey. Indeed, malted barley being taxed by the English crown, more and more distilleries began to distill unmalted barley (untaxed) and corn (also untaxed) in order to reduce state influence. (to the detriment of quality). Single pot still was born. She explains to me, however, that the distillery has remained a good student, continued to pay taxes and above all to prioritize the quality of its products by only distilling malted barley.


She then explains to me that the history of OLD BUSHMILLS went through a catastrophe (partly avoided) in 1885 with the fire of a good part of the premises of the house. However, the spared parts made it possible to continue producing and above all to develop the distillery again.



Also, in 1890, BUSHMILLS developed and set out to conquer the world. The Steamship SS BUSHMILLS was launched into the water, destined to conquer the United States and Asia, with its holds full of whiskey. Fans who take the plane will also have the opportunity to come across the BUSHMILLS STEAMCHIP COLLECTION series (in Bourbon, Sherry, Rum and Porto versions) which pays homage to this event 125 years later (and which I recommend).



Alex then tells me that during the construction of his malt house, just before the First World War, the history of the distillery intersected with that of the architect to whom we owe the pagoda roofs on the majority of Scottish distilleries, M .FINGER. And what do you think happened? Well the new malt house, capable of drying 200 tonnes of barley, ended up with two pagoda roofs!!


Alex adds that the distillery being established in the region, it already had a “strong back” and, with a certain Samuel Wilson Boyd at its head, did not have “too much” difficulty in facing the American prohibition of 20s/30s. It wisely kept its stocks for a few years, then covered the American market from 1933 (once the law was repealed).


The owner of Bushmills also took the opportunity to expand by purchasing a second distillery in Derry: Coleraine (which for the record was, at the time, the official distillery of the London Parliament).



Alex goes on to tell me that the Second World War took its toll on production (turning the distillery into barracks) and the head office in Belfast (during the Blitz). However, the distillery continued its production of Irish single malt whiskey for many years under the orders of Isaac Wolfson (its new owner) before being bought by IRISH DISTILLERY LIMITED in 1972.



My van backfires as it enters the distillery grounds at the exit of the small village of Bushmills (I like to get noticed when I arrive somewhere).


We then approach the buildings proudly displaying an “OLD BUSHMILLS” DISTILLERY CO. LTD. » in big white letters on the roof. We go around the historic brick building blackened by time and perhaps the fire of 1885 and arrive in front of the kiln (and its famous pagoda roofs)!


Here we are at OLD BUSHMILLS!


Alex then accompanies me to the operating buildings located below these famous pagoda roofs.


It is among the pipes and tanks and in front of an old copper fermentation tank that the visit begins.



It continues through the brewing room then to the fermentation room where 10 stainless steel washbacks (since 1994) house the yeasts gently nibbling their sugar.


The next room is the heart of the distillery since it houses the 10 large and tall stills (wash and spirit) of the house, working in trio as is the custom of Irish whiskey.



We then leave the building to reach the more industrial premises of the distillery (the 3 bottling lines which each box 300 bottles per minute!).


But before entering the building, Alex is proud to show me just behind a few meters, the new installations of the BUSHMILLS CAUSEWAY DISTILLERY (twin sister of the OLD BUSHMILLS distillery born in 2023 and whose objective is to double the production of homemade whiskey from 5 to 11 million liters per year anyway!). She tells me that this new distillery of course respects current ecological sustainability standards (green electricity, waste recovery, carbon compensation, etc.). Something to be proud of, right??



Entering the “industrial” rooms of the distillery, Alex points out to me that OLD BUSHMILLS has for a long time favored short circuits by having barrel maintenance workshops and bottling lines on site. At BUSHMILLS, the barley goes in on one side and the bottle comes out on the other. This is what we call a short circuit, right?


I can then discover an overview of the distillery's storage warehouses (where the barrels are stored either upright or lying on small levels), a tribute paid to the two master coopers of the house and a scenario explaining the gluttony of the Irish angels .


We end the visit in a corridor where Alex introduces me to a large part of the house's whiskeys:

  • Bushmills Original (White Bush 40% Middleton grain whiskey and 60% Bushmills malt)
  • Black Bush (the aptly named composed of 80% malt and 20% grains with a passage in sherry casks)
  • Bushmills Single Malt 10 years (10 years in bourbon and sherry casks)
  • Bushmills Single Malt 16 years old (16 years old aged in bourbon and sherry casks and finished 9 months in port)
  • Bushmills Single Malt 21 years old (which I will have the pleasure of tasting for you just below).


Alex finally leads me to the comfort of the round table of the 1608 bar lit by bottle chandeliers, at the foot of an old retired still and under the portrait of Samuel Wilson Boyd.


It’s here that she suggests I do the tasting.




The first BUSHMILLS that we taste today will be the 21 year old nugget, the first nugget offered by the distillery since 2001.


She explains to me that as a good BUSHMILLS Irish Single malt, it has been triple distilled from a malt

100% Irish and with St Columb's Rill ionic water flowing right next to the distillery.


The result of this distillation is then slipped for 19 years into Oloroso sherry and bourbon barrels, and then refined for a long time (2 years) in Madeira barrels.



The distillate that I find in my glass is a light amber color with more pronounced reflections.


On the nose, it is creamy and sweet. It shows a very marked mixture, first of very ripe apple, then of notes of red fruits on a background of vanilla.


In the second pass, the vanilla is more pronounced and is added with woody notes of oak which brings a touch of freshness.



On the third pass, we will find a smell of mocha and over time a discreet arrival of spices (cloves and pepper) which energize it at the end.



In the mouth, it enters gently before waking up first with spices, then a taste of green apple. Subsequently the apple takes on the sun, becomes sweeter with some spices in the background for a while, the taste becomes rounded. Then we will detect more velvety notes of wood and cinnamon stick. The end of the tasting is with honeyed but less sweet notes with a hint of burnt oak notes.


When it goes down the throat, it does so on velvet and on cappuccino foam and rancio notes. Over time, it’s more of the licorice that stays in the mind.


The empty glass remains with a mixture of woody and barley notes.




Alex is proud to show me those which to this day remain the oldest BUSHMILLS offered.


It starts with the 25 year old which of course comes from a 100% triple distilled Irish malted barley and which has first spent 4 to 6 years in Oloroso sherry casks and bourbon casks (which makes it a 4 years of age according to the rules of the art), before being assembled to spend no less than 21 years in first-fill Rubis Port barrels.



The glass darkens with the deep mahogany color of this distillate


When poured into the glass, it releases a round and heady aroma, a mixture of red fruits and beeswax. It almost looks like a rum.


Also, the distillate being already of a fairly honorable age, the best thing to do is to let it wake up from its 25-year torpor and leave the glass a little in the open air.


Once aerated, the nose remains complex and intense.


At the first pass it will release a mixture of intensely ripe red fruits, marked spices on a base of licorice stick.


On the second pass, it takes on roasted cocoa beans and notes of burnt wood but keeps the spices very present.


On the third pass, the spices rise again to the nose with notes of citrus (kumquat) which enhance the ambient heat.


We are quite far from what we might be used to discovering with an Irish whiskey.



On the palate, it is marked by a more present impression of alcohol which awakens the distillate (compared to the sweetness of the nose) and gives it an air of old cooked wine certainly brought by the ruby port barrel. It then shows a mixture of woody notes, rancio notes linked to the long passage in bourbon barrels and finally notes of very ripe red fruits linked to sherry. It is thick and dense and becomes honeyed at the end. Paradoxically it shows spices that are sweeter than the nose.


On the descent it has a long finish with menthol and fresh notes.


The empty glass is a mixture of vanilla and spices and then a sweetness of marzipan and a hint of lemon.




The icing on the cake of a great distillery visit is that Alex presents me with a glass of BUSHMILLS 30 YEARS (the oldest the distillery offers). What a beautiful moment.


She explains to me that the aging of this whiskey, which was distilled in 1992, was done in two stages to optimize its magnificence. First 14 years in Oloroso sherry barrels and bourbon barrels, then once blended 16 years in first-fill Pédro Ximénez barrels.



Let's move on to the holy grail of BUSHMILLS.


As for the 25 year old, we advise you to let the clearly dark mahogany colored liquid wake up in your glass. This will once again allow you to enjoy a whiskey that is whiskey in name only.


This will be an opportunity to take you back to 1992 when it was distilled! you will thus be able to measure the sleeping time of this distillate (which incurs a significant price but probably consistent with the little alcohol left in the barrels by the angels).


Worthy of the expectations of such a beverage, the first passage in the glass will find a cornucopia of ripe red fruits, soft figs, prunes and plump dates. By remaining in the glass this discovery involves a rise in the power of the spices.


In the second passage, the spices continue to progress but the atmosphere becomes woodier and more tense as if the distillate wanted to show that at 30 we know how to stay green. He comes to prick himself with cloves.


The third passage will be positioned on a scent of caramel with spices. Soft mixed with strong tensions.



Excited to imagine that a 30-year-old beverage is finally finishing its run, let’s taste it!


It is in the mouth that it reveals its nature even more. It is soft and sweet as an entry with the mellow notes of the cornucopia of the nose. Ripe fruit, dried fruit, nuts, everything goes well.


It then increases in power with citrus notes and an addition of woody notes rendered by the long passage in barrel. At the end it's even a soft and warm cocoon from which we refuse to come out. Spicy honey feels velvety.


But unfortunately it is necessary.


And it is to better discover a long and fresh finish of mint and licorice.


Only one desire to return to meet this young man of 30 years!!



Unfortunately, the time has come to leave, with regret, the OLD BUSHMILLS house and to set off again for new adventures, and having only one desire is to return to the green lands of Northern Ireland to make discover new tastings.



After greeting Alex, I finally go to the owner's dining room and discover a beautiful collection of historic bottles from the house.


See you soon for new malted adventures.